By Angela Gregory
DARGAVILLE - It may soon require some care to distinguish between "Your Honour" and "Your Worship" for those addressing robed figures in the Kaipara District Council.
The turn-of-the-century courthouse in Dargaville is outdated and the Department for Courts is eyeing the council chamber as an alternative venue, which may see robes and chains regularly swapped with robes and gavels.
Kaipara mayor Graeme Ramsey said the department had indicated that a new courthouse would not be built and that it was looking at options such as using an existing building.
He said if the relatively new council building was used, some facilities such as the meeting chamber, reception area and carparks could be shared and special rooms such as holding cells installed.
While more investigation was required, he said the idea had merit.
"We have got enough space that would be flexible and suitable enough for a court building."
The council would also benefit from the rent it received.
Mr Ramsey said his staff were not alarmed about the possible dual use.
"Their major concern is to see that court services remain in town."
He said the department was also considering the Work and Income New Zealand building.
Dargaville lawyer Greg Clarke said the present courthouse was inadequate and unsafe.
He said the local legal fraternity were worried that the court, which sat eight days a month, might be shut and services shifted to Whangarei.
While the department had said that was not being considered, there were concerns that such a move might be a cost-cutting option.
"It would be a catastrophe for the area if the court went.
"There are no bus services to Whangarei, which is too remote, and some people here don't have cars."
Mr Clarke said he had not heard of a court permanently operating from other premises before, but he did not foresee any problems if the council building was used.
"With the existing facility so substandard, it could only be an improvement."
Fiona Saunders-Francis, the department's operational policy manager, confirmed yesterday that it had discussed the provision of court services with Mr Ramsey.
She said the department was responsive to community needs, which included discussions on local initiatives.
However, no decision had been made to change the present facilities.
By Angela Gregory